Baking Basics and Why You Don’t Need to Make Every Recipe “Healthy”

When I’m searching for new recipes to make, I often stumble upon “healthier” versions of old favorites. For instance, so many variations exist for a fat-free, oil-free, gluten-free, or no added sugar banana bread. Some of these recipes work, and some of them you already know will never taste satisfying.
If a baked good isn’t going to satisfy you, there’s probably no point in even eating it. We don’t usually eat dessert to satisfy our hunger. We eat dessert to satisfy a desire for something sweet. Or we eat dessert to celebrate an occasion such as a birthday or wedding (or a Friday). Why celebrate with something that doesn’t taste good?
On that note, why eat a pint of low calorie ice cream every night when you could have a cup of regular ice cream a couple times a week and actually enjoy your experience? When you eat something every day, it becomes mundane. You get used to it. But when something is considered a special treat, reserved for when you really feel like it, you get to experience the flavor on a different level.
For all these reasons, you don’t need to alter recipes to make them super-duper healthy. We don’t need cakes made out of kale. But sometimes we want a dessert that caters to our dietary restrictions and it’s perfectly okay to make changes.
When developing a recipe (or just throwing a bunch of things together), remember that everything that goes into baked goods has a purpose. The following ingredients may be ones you’re looking to change. You can make changes, but the substitutes need to be able to perform the same tasks. The dessert needs to look good and taste good.


Flour provides the structure in baked goods. Wheat flour is most commonly used, which contains proteins that interact with each other when mixed with water, forming gluten. Gluten is responsible for the strength of the dough and the amount of gluten differs between different types of wheat. This is why you might use bread flour, cake flour, or all-purpose flour in a recipe. When baking gluten-free, you must play around with the proportions of other flours to help achieve the same structure gluten provides.


Sugar in a recipe does more than just provide sweetness. Some sugar also helps yeast produce gas for raising yeast dough, but too much slows yeast fermentation. Sugar also tenderizes dough and batter and may help the baked product to brown. It helps the baked product retain moisture. You can generally reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe by about 1/3 before you’ll notice a loss of tenderness, moisture, browning, and sweetness.

Using other sugars such as fructose, honey, molasses, maple syrup, or non-nutritive sweeteners will alter the texture, taste, moisture retention, and browning of the baked good.


Fat contributes tenderness, moistness, and a smooth mouthfeel to baked goods. Fats enhance the flavors of other ingredients. Reducing the amount of fat in a recipe can result in a tougher product because gluten will then develop more freely. If you reduce the amount of fat, adding additional sugar can help tenderize the product. Fats also contain emulsifiers which helps oil and water stay mixed together which creates an even distribution of flavors and a consistent textures in batters and dough.


Salt is used to enhance the flavors and sweetness of other ingredients in food. In yeast dough, salt slows yeast fermentation. If you leave out the salt, increase the other spices to ensure their flavor comes through.


Eggs add flavor and color, contribute to structure, incorporate air when beaten, provide liquid, fat, and protein and emulsify fat with liquid ingredients. Reducing or omitting egg yolks can result in less tenderness and cakes may not have a uniform flavor and texture. Reducing or omitting egg whites can result in less volume.


Liquids are necessary in baked goods for hydrating protein, starch, and leavening agents. Liquids contribute moistness to the texture and improve the mouthfeel of baked products. And when water vaporizes in a batter or dough, the steam expands the air cells, increasing the final volume of the product.


Seeking additional support in your relationship with food and your body? In search of an experienced eating disorder registered dietitian nutritionist in the Centerport, New York area or virtually? Send Christina an email to learn more about 1:1 nutrition therapy sessions!

Published by Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT

Christina Frangione, MS, RD, CDN, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist serving the Long Island, New York City, and New York State areas helping clients with eating disorders and disordered eating recover their relationship with food and their body. She utilizes a Health at Every Size® approach and supports Intuitive Eating and knows that while she is the food and nutrition expert, you are the expert of your body and life.

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